The personal statement is generally considered by law school admissions committees as the third most important component of your law school application, after your LSAT score and GPA. Since interviews are usually not part of the application process at most law schools, the personal statement serves as your proxy for an interview and gives you an opportunity to personalize your law school application.
Most law schools receive thousands of applications for just a few hundred seats in each class, so your goal is to write a personal statement that distinguishes you from other candidates with similar LSAT scores and GPAs. After reading your personal statement in the context of hundreds or thousands of other personal statements, a law school admissions committee member should be convinced that you will be a more interesting and valuable addition to their next law school class than the other candidates.
Selecting a Topic
Some law schools ask a specific question or require a specific topic, but most leave the theme open-ended. In the latter case, your personal statement should not be a broad collection of themes and thoughts. Focus on one or two important themes in your life rather then overwhelming the reader with all of your significant accomplishments. In this case, less is more. Limiting the number of topics and themes also prevents your personal statement from becoming a boring laundry list of activities. Examples of themes include describing specific experiences in your life that led to personal growth, or describing a time when you obtained a sudden insight into yourself, or emphasizing a positive character trait through a series of significant events from your life, or describing how you overcame adversity or an obstacle in your life. While you are selecting a theme and before you spend too much time and energy on your personal statement, see the Pre-Law Advisor to make sure that you are on the right track.
The most effective personal statements tend to be in the form of anecdotal, personal histories that are based on reflective, prayerful thought about your unique, God-given personality and character, what you have accomplished, and what you want to accomplish. If an idea does not come to mind immediately, then think about your strengths and weaknesses and all of the significant events and people in your life to see if a theme emerges. To avoid creating a boring laundry list of activities and accomplishments, make sure your personal statement shows that you understand the meaning and impact of your experiences. Your analysis does not have to be explicit and obvious. Ideally, your stories and how they are presented will lead the reader to draw inferences and come to the conclusion you want to make.
Focusing on Mechanics
Whatever rules the law school provides for the personal statement should be followed to the letter. You don’t want to give a law school admissions committee member an easy reason for putting your personal statement in the reject pile by violating one of the law school’s guidelines.
If the law school does not provide guidelines, limit your personal statement to two or two and one-half typed, double-spaced pages using one inch margins and a standard font size.
In addition to using the personal statement to understand more about you and how you can add to the diversity of their next class, law schools are using the personal statement as evidence that you can write concisely and coherently. Use simple and direct language rather than large words or complex sentences. Proofread and carefully check spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure. Your personal statement should be grammatically flawless. Again, you don’t want to give a law school admissions committee member an easy reason for rejecting your personal statement.
Expect to devote a considerable amount of time writing numerous drafts of your personal statement so that the final draft is an example of your best work. Use the Writing Center for assistance. Share your personal statement with several people to proofread for grammatical errors and to provide feedback. People who know you well can tell you if the personal statement effectively describes you, and they may be able to help you remember an important event or accomplishment that you have overlooked.
Errors to Avoid
Avoid making the following errors on your personal statement:
Don’t make philosophical comments about the value of law to a civilized society, or talk about your fascination with the law. These topics tend to be boring and impersonal. Instead, personalize your statement with specific experiences and accomplishments about you. Think of yourself as a storyteller.
Don't use quotes. Quotes represent the ideas of others, and generally undercut the purpose of a "personal" statement. Remember, this is not an academic exercise or just a writing sample, but a personalization of your application.
Don't be irreverent or overly creative. You should avoid anything that appears silly or weird. Humor has its place and a small amount of self-deprecation can be an effective tool in a statement, but there is a very fine line between humor and silliness. Do not cross that line. When in doubt, avoid trying to be funny.
Don’t use your limited space to explain perceived weaknesses in your application. If you have something to explain, such as bad grades one semester or a disciplinary violation, type a separate addendum to your application, and keep your explanation short and simple.
Don’t rehash your resume. The personal statement should not be a list of your activities in narrative form. Your personal statement should be able to stand on its own as a compelling document.
Always, always, always remember that your reader is a law school admissions committee member who is literally reading thousands of personal statements and putting them in accept, reject, or wait list piles. You want your personal statement to get into the right pile by following the law school’s guidelines, by writing concisely, clearly, and correctly, and by sharing your unique, God-given gifts, talents, and experiences in an interesting and highly personal manner.
Examples of Personal Statements
The following personal statements were written by Wheaton College graduates and graduates of other institutions who were successful law school applicants: